Chronic diseases (such as heart disease, asthma, cancer, and diabetes) are ongoing and often incurable chronic illnesses or conditions that affect about 133 million Americans, which is 45% of the nation’s population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes three risk factors—poor diet, inactivity, and smoking—to three major diseases: cardiovascular, diabetes, and cancer. While it is indisputable that engaging in exercise and avoiding smoking are healthy practices, the government is misleading citizens by promoting healthy eating (through campaigns such as “Let’s Move”) while at the same time subsidizing and supporting products that actually harm human health. Here are five ingredients to be aware of and to avoid.
1. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
HFCS has been equated to cane sugar, but is in fact an industrialized product that is far from “natural.” HFCS is extracted through an unnatural process and is made of glucose and fructose, like cane sugar, but in a different ratio and in an unbound form. This ratio consists of more fructose, which is sweeter than glucose. Without the chemical bond between the fructose and glucose in HFCS, the sugars are rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream, and fructose goes straight to the liver.
As a result of the high consumption of HFCS, over 70 million people have a condition called “fatty liver” as fructose triggers the production of fats in the liver. Additionally, its rapid absorption triggers spikes in insulin, causing metabolic disturbances that lead to increased appetite, diabetes, cancer, dementia, heart disease, and weight gain. Unfortunately, the government’s corn subsidies allow HFCS to be produced more cheaply than sugar. So, HFCS products both taste sweeter and are less expensive, making them more desirable and accessible.
2. Hydrogenated oils
Hydrogenation is a process by which natural oils are heated from 500 to 1000 degrees under several atmospheres of pressure and then injected with a metal catalyst (like aluminum) that changes their structure and density. Once liquid, the oil becomes a semi-solid or solid oil at room temperature. Not only do hydrogenated oils provide structural advantages for manufacturers, but they are also preservatives. However, hydrogenated oils are only one molecule away from being plastic, which cannot break down.
The blood thickens with the oil, making the heart work harder to pump blood. As a result, the heart muscle is overworked and blood pressure is elevated. Hydrogenated oils also slow down microcirculation in the brain, causing chronic illnesses such as dementia, Parkinson’s, and ADHD. The metal catalyst aluminum has even been linked to early-onset Alzheimer’s.
3. Sodium nitrite
Nitrites naturally occur in vegetables, especially celery, and are needed by the body as signaling molecules and blood vessel dilators. However, when added to meats (e.g. ham, bacon, and sausages), sodium nitrite is exposed to an abundance of amino acids and is typically cooked at high heat. The nitrites and nitrates that were initially added as preservatives then turn into nitrosamines, many of which are carcinogens. They are associated with an increase in brain tumors, leukemia, nose, and throat tumors. In addition, while these molecules were once blood vessel dilators when consumed through vegetables, they become an agent that hardens and narrows arteries, leading to heart disease.
4. Artificial colors
Your parents may have advised you to avoid sweets not only because of high amounts of sugar but also because of artificial colors. For example, Blue 2 causes brain tumors in male rats, Citrus Red 2 causes urinary bladder tumors and is toxic to rodents at modest levels, Red 3 is a thyroid carcinogen in animals, and Red 40 causes allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children. All the while, the U.S. government continues to allow certain dyes, based on the excuse that there is not enough research to support negative claims. However, if the research has already shown several harms, and if other countries have already banned many of the dyes, it’s reasonable to avoid artificial colors wherever possible.
5. Refined grains
Grains (even “whole grains”) are finely milled, so their products will be quickly digested—the spike in blood sugar after consuming whole wheat bread actually occurs faster than the spike caused by candy bars! Additionally, refined grains are nutritionally imbalanced, causing calcium to leach because of an altered phosphorus-calcium balance.
This leads to tooth decay and brittle bones. Wheat fiber also causes the body to deplete its Vitamin D storage faster, contributing to Vitamin D deficiency, which is linked to cancer, diabetes, and death. Lastly, a correlation to heart disease was proven in a study where 38 men were split into two groups. One group ate whole oat cereal while the other ate whole wheat cereal. After 12 weeks, the oat cereal participants experienced a decrease in small, dense LDL (i.e. “bad” cholesterol), while an increase of 60% was seen in the other group.